Was Elvis keepin’ it kosher?

John Intini June 17 2002

Was Elvis keepin’ it kosher?

John Intini June 17 2002

Was Elvis keepin’ it kosher?

Have you heard the one about the three filmmakers, an UltraOrthodox Jewish Elvis impersonator and a rabbi? No? OK, it’s not a joke. But things still get pretty funny when this unlikely band boards a Winnebago for Graceland intent on telling the world that Elvis Presley was Jewish.

That’s the premise of Schmelvis: Searching for the King’s Jewish Roots, a 76-minute documentary that airs on Bravo June 18. After reading a 1998 Wall Street Journal article that claimed the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s great-greatgrandmother, Nancy Burdine Tackett, was Jewish, Montreal filmmakers Evan Beloff, Max Wallace and Ari Cohen thought the subject was worth pursu-

ing. But they needed a star. Wallace’s grandmother told them about Dan Hartal-a Montreal-based Elvis impersonator known as Schmelvis, who “gigs” at senior citizens’ homes. Hartal signed on as long as they could travel to Memphis so he could recite the Kaddish-the Jewish prayer for the dead-at Elvis’s grave.

The filmmakers, Schmelvis and Rabbi Reuben Poupko-who serves as spiritual adviser-travel first to Graceland and then to Israel spreading the good word. While they expect to meet with some resistance south of the border, the cast of oddballs are surprised when nearly everyoneincluding diehard fans and bornagain Christians-doesn’t care that

Memphis’s favourite son had Jewish blood. In Israel, they anticipate people will react with pride, but as in the U.S., nobody is all that shook up. The only conflict they encounter is within the group itself, as Poupko and Schmelvis engage in heated, humorous debates. Turns out, the Rabbi’s not too fond of Schmelvis’s observances, calling him a penitent Jew.

The film reveals that Elvis did embrace his Jewish roots after discovering that part of his heritage as a teenager-he began wearing a Jewish pendant and later placed a Star of David on his mother’s tombstone. How do you say love me tender in Yiddish? John Intini

Reach out and spin someone

In the brief annals of 24/7 cable news TV, rarely has the live spin come so fast and furious as it did on the Sunday when Paul Martin exited Jean Chrétien s cabinet. New Finance Minister John Manley had barely been sworn in before Martin loyalists were in CBC Newsworld’s studio off Parliament Hill putting their guy’s case before the ubiquitous Don Newman. Mike Robinson, a long-time Martin adviser, was holding forth when the Prime Minister’s Office decided enough was enough. A PMO operative with Newman’s cell number called him while he was on the air, informing him that Eddie Goldenberg, Chrétien’s camerashy alter ego, was ready to offer the opposing camp’s view. Sure enough, Goldenberg was under the hot lights before you could say equal time. And so the pointcounterpoint, no-charge-goesunanswered, our-word-againstyours rules of engagement were set. Stay tuned-the stuff these guys used to keep behind closed doors they’re now rushing to say into open mikes.

Roll ’n’ Rock

In 1990, the first MuchMusic Video Awards were held on a cross-Canada train. VJs travelled the country for three weeks, giving out awards along the way. “We put a studio in a baggage car,” says David Kines,then a producer and now head honcho at the music station. “When the train stopped, we’d open the doors and bands would play. People came off and on-like the Northern Pikes and Bruce Cockburn.” But the only thing resembling a train at this year’s ceremony, airing June 16 from the CityTV parking lot, will be the line at the martini bar.

The MMVAs are now all about the glitz-in recent years stars like Denzel Washington and Anne Heche have shown up unexpectedly. Yet, it’s a very inclusive event. VIPs are roped into the

party area without a direct view of the action, while 1,200 screaming fans take spots in front of the stage, free of charge. This year, performers include Shakira, Nickelback and Sum 41.

Compared to the standard auditorium awards show, this outdoor street party/concert is a logistical nightmare, says Kines-and then there’s the egos: “Last time, Lenny Kravitz wouldn’t come out of his dressing room until we got him a plate of cookies.” No doubt, that kind of behaviour would have gotten him thrown from the train.

Over and Under Achievers

Hi►Ralph Klein: Charm offensive at Western Premiers Conference wins his counterKyoto plan for combatting global warming some respectability. Ralph could sell ice to Inuit. At this rate, they’ll soon need some.

Hih John Ralston Saul: Viceregal consort’s book reading in Sydney packs in 500, and 500 more are turned away. Australian passions? Beer, surfing, and urbane leftish philosophy.

HÉK Bryan Adams: At 42,

the Canadian content at the Queen’s Jubilee geezer rock bash looked positively boyish— at least surrounded by the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, 59, and Tom Jones, 61.

Hfc' Robert B. MacNaughton:

Scientist leads team that finds oldest fossil footprints near Kingston, Ont. Impossible to say if 500 million-year-old bugs supported Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin, but by their slithering, they appear to have been Liberals.